15 Basic English Grammar Rules: A Quick Guide with Examples.

Grammar is the set of rules (3,500 rules when it comes to English!) that explains how to combine individual words to express complex meanings.

You can think of it as the “genetic code” of any given language. Just as DNA holds the specific instructions that shape an organism, grammar is the guide to expressing our thoughts and ideas.

While admittedly not the most exciting part of learning a new language, a solid understanding of grammar is essential! Some mistakes, such as using the wrong tense or spelling a homonym incorrectly when writing, can create chaos when trying to communicate.

In this article, we break down the basic grammar rules in English, so you can start to build your way to fluency fast!   

Essential Basic Grammar Rules

If your heart dropped thinking about the 3,500 grammar rules in English, there’s good news: you don’t have to memorize each and every one. Even most native speakers don’t master them all – especially when it comes down to the dreary details! Here, we focus on a core set of basic rules in order for you to improve your grammar and confidently express yourself without any major hiccups before hitting grammar burnout. 

1. A complete sentence must always include a subject and a verb. 

A subject is any person or thing that is doing the action and a verb is the action being done in a sentence. 

  • They are eating.
  • Our dog barks.  

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2. A sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark

The type of punctuation you choose depends on the message you want to convey.

Full stop / period (.)

Declarative sentence

Use a full stop when you are making a statement. A declarative sentence can be a fact or an opinion.

  • Curry is too spicy.
  • The Earth is round. 

Question mark (?)

Interrogative sentence

Use a question mark when you are asking either a direct or indirect question.

  • What time is the concert?
  • Can I borrow your bike?

Exclamation mark (!)

Exclamatory sentence

Use an exclamation mark when you are conveying strong emotion or excitement.

  • We won the tennis match!
  • Leave me alone!

 3. The imperative directs someone to take action to follow a command, a request or an instruction.

Imperative sentence

An imperative sentence tells somebody to do something by making a request, issuing a command or giving instructions.

  • Don’t forget to lock the door when you leave.
  • Tell the dentist that you prefer mint toothpaste.

Imperative request

An imperative sentence can also be used to make a request, but it isn’t the same as a simple interrogative sentence (question).

  • Please finish your ice cream. (imperative
  • Could you please finish your ice cream? (imperative request)

4. When a simple sentence contains an object, the correct order is subject-verb-object (SVO)

If a simple sentence contains an object (person, place, thing or concept that receives the action), it is placed after the verb.

  • She likes pizza.
  • My brother reads comic books.

5. The subject and the verb must agree in number (singular or plural).

If the subject is singular, then the verb must be singular. If the subject is plural, then the verb must be plural.

  • She plays the piano. (singular)
  • They play in the park. (plural)

6. Collective nouns can be singular or plural.

A collective noun refers to a group (of people, animals, things, etc.) and are mostly considered singular.

  • The flock of sheep is eating all the grass.
  • The group meets every Wednesday.

A collective noun can be plural if the focus is on the individuals in the group, but it isn’t very common.

The board are in disagreement over the proposition.

7. Proper nouns must always be capitalized.

A proper noun is a specific person, place or thing and they are distinguished with a capital letter.

  • I am going to New York this weekend.
  • He likes to eat at Burger King.

8. Adjectives are placed before the noun.

Adjectives are words that describe a noun and usually come immediately before the noun they describe.

  • The black cat lives next door.
  • Kimberly bought a new swimsuit for summer.

Predicate adjectives

A predicate adjective describes the subject of the sentence using a linking verb (like to be, to feel, to seem or to taste for example) and comes after the noun it describes.

  • The plate is hot.
  • The teacher seems mad.

9. Indefinite articles: “a” and “an”

“A” and “an” are indefinite articles that are used to talk about an unspecified thing or quantity.

“A” is used before a consonant 

  • A ball
  • A snake

“An” is used before a vowel

  • An apple
  • An idea

10. Nouns can be countable or uncountable.

Countable nouns can be counted and uncountable nouns can’t be counted.

  • One pineapple (countable)
  • Four eggs (countable)
  • Water (uncountable)
  • Rice (uncountable)

Countable nouns use a/an, some and any.

For positive sentences use a/an for singular nouns and some for plural nouns. For negative sentences use a/an for singular nouns and any for plural nouns.

  • There’s a man outside. (positive) 
  • There are some pigeons in the park. (positive)
  • She doesn’t have a cat. (negative)
  • There aren’t any tickets left. (negative)

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11. Ambiguous contractions: had or would?

Contractions ending in ‘d can represent either “had” or “would” and are often ambiguous. If you can’t tell from the context of the sentence, you can look at what follows the contraction.

Would is always followed by a verb in its infinitive form.

  • I’d like some water, please. (I would like some water, please.)
  • She’d be happy to help. (She would be happy to help.)

Had is followed by a past participle to form the past perfect.

When I arrived, he’d been waiting on the bench for an hour. (When I arrived, he had been waiting on the bench for an hour.)

Until Jessica bought a dishwasher, she’d been washing her dishes by hand. (Until Jessica bought a dishwasher, she had been washing her dishes by hand.

12. Ambiguous contractions: is or has?

Contractions ending in ‘s can represent either “is” or “has” and are also often ambiguous. If you can’t identify the correct verb from the context clues, look at the tense being used. 

“Is” implies the action is in the present.

  • The dog’s tired. (The dog is tired.)
  • She’s at the beach. (She is at the beach.)

“Has” implies the action was completed in the past.

  • Shawn’s finished grilling the steak. (Shawn has finished grilling the steak.)
  • He’s left for the supermarket. (He has left for the supermarket.)

13. Don’t confuse contractions with possessives. 

Apostrophes are also used to show possession in English and can easily be confused with contractions. 

  • The university’s recruited researchers to help with the study. (The university has recruited researchers to help with the study.)
  • The university’s researchers help with the study. (The researchers of the university help with the study.)

Possessive pronouns do not use an apostrophe.

While possession is usually shown by adding an ‘s to a noun, possessive pronouns don’t use an apostrophe in their possessive form. Also, be extra careful with “its”-even spell checkers sometimes mistake it for “it’s” (it is).

  • The festival is celebrating its tenth anniversary tomorrow. 
  • The garden used to be beautiful, but then it lost its charm. 

14. Homonym help: they’re/their/there and your/you’re.

Homonyms are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

They’re/their/there are three commonly confused English homophones.

They’re is the contracted form of “they are”.

  • They’re the cutest kittens ever!
  • Where are the water bottles? They’re in the fridge.

Their is the possessive pronoun for “they”.

  • It’s their ball.
  • The kids are doing their homework.

There is an adverb (a word that describes a verb, adjective or adverb) to indicate a location or position.

  • Stay there until I come back.
  • Is there a park in the city?

You’re/your are also commonly confused homophones.

You’re is the contracted form of “you are”.

  • You’re invited to the party on Friday.
  • Annie said you’re going on vacation tomorrow.

Your is the possessive pronoun for “you”.

  • Where is your house?
  • I found your book.

15. Quantifiers: little and few versus much and many

A quantifier is a word (pronoun) that describes the quantity of the sentence’s noun.

Choosing much or many depends on the noun being described.

Much is used with singular uncountable nouns.

  • There isn’t much water left in the pool. 
  • How much air is in the balloon?

Many is used with plural countable nouns.

  • There are many apples on the tree.
  • How many eggs do you want in your omelet?

Little and few are quantifiers meaning “a small quantity”.

Little is used with singular uncountable nouns.

  • Sarah had a little bread and water for lunch.
  • I guess I have little choice in the matter.

Few is used with plural countable nouns.

  • Few cities are as beautiful as Paris.
  • We stayed for a few days in Rome before going to Pisa.

Bonus: Some and any are used with plural uncountable and countable nouns.

Some is a quantifier used mostly in positive sentences.

  • Do you have some time to get a coffee?
  • We met some friends for drinks after work.

Any is a quantifier used mostly in negative sentences.

  • I didn’t see any good cookies at the bakery.
  • He won’t have any time for a meeting today.

Ready to go beyond the basics? Try Gymglish, our online English lessons, for free and get your very own free level assessment!  

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